Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Annals of Wasted Lives, II: The Tennis Queen

It’s been almost exactly two years since I wrote my first post in the “Annals of Wasted Lives” series; I try to wait until really solid examples come my way. That time has come.

In a press conference on March 18, Marion Bartoli, the #1 tennis player in France, claimed to have an IQ of 175.

This is quite the claim. The average person has an IQ of 100; an IQ of 132 will get you into Mensa. An IQ of 175 would be about 5 standard deviations above the mean for intelligence, putting Ms. Bartoli in the range of the 99.99997th percentile of intelligence; put another way, she would be 1 person in about 3.33 million in terms of intellectual ability.* A Yahoo! sports blog claims that an IQ of 175 would exceed the IQs of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. (I myself am aware of no reliable figures for the IQs of these people.)

Let’s mention one issue just to set it aside. I was trained to assess intelligence professionally as part of my doctoral training in psychology, and I am aware of no intelligence test that reliably assesses intelligence above about 150; one might wonder what test was supposedly given to Ms. Bartoli as a child.

But there is a much larger question here: If Ms. Bartoli really possesses a 1-person-in-3.33-million intellect, what is she doing playing tennis?

The world we live in is beset by major challenges: war; terrorism; climate change; poverty; famine; disease; economic upheaval; crime; illiteracy; a myriad of unsolved scientific mysteries and obstacles to technological progress, not to mention problems created by technological progress. Someone possessing an intellect like Ms. Bartoli claims to have should be working primarily on these issues, and playing killer tennis on the weekends.

Am I being judgmental here? Yessiree! Hang on, the best is yet to come.

Individuals like Ms. Bartoli seem focused on their own glory and wealth. In plain words, hers is a self-centered, selfish, even narcissistic quest. Nothing she does will make one life better except her own, and the lives of those on whom she spends money. This is a hollow life, a life of meaningless achievement and acquisition. Absolutely nothing of any greater purpose hinges on whether Ms. Bartoli wins or loses her next match.

But so what? Where do I get off, making judgments like this? Where I take off from is a principle, one that I described at some length in my first post in this series: Our lives are not our own. We owe it to the human race to make the world better than how we found it. On this basis, one has to judge Ms. Bartoli’s life as sorely wanting.

I don’t expect that this post will make one iota of difference to Ms. Bartoli, who almost certainly will never read these words. However, my hope is that my rude words will serve to make us reflect on the direction of our own lives, and the purposes that our actions serve. Because our lives really are not our own; we really do owe something to the world and humanity.

Geniuses—self-proclaimed or otherwise—who withhold their talents from addressing the world’s need are definitely not On The Mark.

[The photo of Marion Bartoli at the 2009 U.S. Open was taken on August 31 of that year by Robbie Mendelson. It was obtained through Wikimedia Commons and appears here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.]

*William M. Meredith, Basic Mathematical and Statistical Tables for Psychology and Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. 187, calculated from figures regarding z equal to ± 5.00.

Copyright 2011 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.


  1. And I'll bet her secret identity is Lady Gaga, that she wrote the Harry Potter books, and is Managing Director of the IMF. And cooks a mean pot of chili.

    People who somehow feel the need to elevate themselves above the "rest of us"-- especially when they already have attained a level of success and achievement for which they should be grateful and about which they should be appropriately modest-- are often at least a little bit...off.

    Take a look at Celebrity-Basket-Case-Of-The-Month, Charlie Sheen.


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